Birth Control -- Eric R. Pianka

Birth Control

© Eric R. Pianka

Let us now consider abortion and birth control. Abortion is one of the most hotly contested divisive issues with its militant anti-abortion "pro-life" versus abortion rights "pro-choice" mass movement groups. Pro-lifers claim that an embryo is human with a right to life and say that abortion constitutes murder. Proponents of choice assert that a woman has a right to decide about matters that concern her own body including whether or not to bring an embryo to full term. Balancing foetal rights against those of its mother is at issue, and bodily privacy has become a women's right issue in America. Debate over when does life begin is intimately tied to our irrational religious notion of spirituality and has spawned the nonsensical question "When does a newly fertilized egg or zygote acquire a spirit and become a person?" Laws vary from country to country with states and governments declaring abortion legal in some but criminal in others. Laws banning abortion lead to unsafe abortions and maternal mortality. Abortions were illegal in the USA until the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. Since then, public controversy over the moral, ethical, and legal issues surrounding abortion has been extensive and seems to have reached a stalemate.

With the support of Margaret Sanger, birth control pills based on the hormone progesterone were first invented and tested in 1954 by endocrinologist Gregory Pincus and John Rock. Pincus and Rock rightfully should have won the Nobel Prize for this important discovery, which came in time to control burgeoning human populations before we reached overshoot. Compared to alternatives such as war, famine, or pandemics, birth control is certainly the most humane way to control runaway human population growth.

"The pill" was approved for contraception by the US FDA in 1960 and despite considerable controversy, became widely used by American women during the early 1960's. Birth control is opposed by organized religions, but was legalized by the U. S. Supreme Court in 1972 for all American citizens, irrespective of marital status. Zero Population Growth (Z.P.G.) was founded by Paul Ehrlich in 1968 and became an aggressive political movement advocating birth control. Unfortunately Z.P.G. was greatly weakened or even disbanded for political reasons in 2002 when its name was changed to the Population Connection. In 1967, Planned Parenthood was charged with committing genocide by providing the controversial pill to poor minority neighborhoods. An anti-pill campaign based on putative health risks followed and sales fell. A second generation of new birth control pills, including Lybrel, Norplant, Ocella, Seasonale, Yaz, and Yazmin, among others, ensued along with uterine implant devices or IUDs. Half a century after FDA approval, thousands of lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies are pending based on alleged detrimental side effects. Alas, birth control wasn't adopted or practiced widely enough to head off overpopulation and we humans quickly exceeded sustainable densities. Once again, we missed our chance to ease into a stationary world. However, for humans to control our own population, contraception must certainly be on the table despite inevitable opposition from political and religious groups.

Last updated 10 September 2014 by Eric R. Pianka